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Traditional British Christmas CakeWelcome to the first post in the “Twelve Gifts of Christmas” series! If this is your first time here, you can read about my winning Rosemary and Pork Belly’s festive photo competition here (or look at a slideshow of the entries here), to find out how it was I ended up with this massive hamper of food gifts from twelve local producers to review.

The 12 Gifts of ChristmasHowever, if you didn’t miss my announcement post, let’s get right down to business.

The Wrapped CakeThe gift for Christmas Day had to be the Christmas cake, of course. I can’t express how delighted I was that one was included in the hamper, for I had never tasted a proper British Christmas cake before–I didn’t feel quite ambitious enough to try making one for my first Christmas here, but I can promise you that will not be the case next Christmas!

Carrot Cake Company Christmas Cake

The cake was provided by The Carrot Cake Company in Sussex, which does exactly what its name says: carrot cakes. At the moment, there are seven flavours available, including a chocolate variety which looks divine, and a floral one–how fascinating! I’d like to give both of those cakes a try, wouldn’t you? (If you’re intrigued, you can read an in-depth feature on the company over at Rosemary and Pork Belly’s blog.) However, in the interest of shelf life and portability, the owner and baker Sharon graciously baked a special-order Christmas cake as her donation to the hamper.

A Proper British Christmas CakeAnd so I was able to have my proper British Christmas cake after all. I must say, I don’t know what happened to fruitcake when it was brought over to the New World. Most Americans, when they hear that people in England eat fruitcake on Christmas, give a surreptitious shudder and wonder how such an unappealing tradition got started in the first place. The truth is that Americans simply don’t know how to make it.

Cutting the Christmas CakeEven I, who have always had a taste for fruitcake, thanks to my earlier stint of residence in England, admit to being a little bit skeptical about the icing and marzipan on the Christmas cake. Frosting and marzipan? Wouldn’t it be far too sweet?

Cake for ChristmasI am happy to say that my fears were entirely ungrounded. The combination is, as the Brits would say, “brilliant;” for the dark, spicy cake,  heavily dosed with brandy and citrus, balances out the sweetness of the marzipan and royal icing. And the crunch of the royal icing coating and stickiness of the marzipan provide a lovely textural contrast to the soft cake and plump, chewy dried fruits. Sharon used dried apricots in her cake, in addition to the usual raisins, currants, sultanas, glace cherries, and mixed peel, and I thought their slight tartness added the perfect final touch to a truly magnificent cake.

I’ll have a good time trying to make one that will measure up next December!

The Christmas Cake